Reverse Sneezing in Dogs

‘Emergency Care’ (details below)

How to Tell Reverse Sneezing from Choking

  • Reverse sneezing causes minimal distress and gums remain pink
  • It can usually be stopped if you call or distract a dog
  • The dog is 100% fine immediately before and afterwards

If in doubt, see a vet immediately. True choking is often fatal. No vet will criticise you for being careful, even if there is nothing wrong.

Now dive deeper…

Reverse sneezing is dramatic and scary. Many times a dog in the middle of a bout has been rushed to me for choking. That’s not an unreasonable thought when you see what it looks like.

However, while certainly unpleasant to the dog, reverse sneezing is virtually harmless. Since most dogs will do it at some time, it’s important for dog owners to understand.

What Is Reverse Sneezing?

Reverse sneezing is repetitive sucking of air through the nose, accompanied by a harsh grunting, snorting or gagging noise. It can last anywhere from 5 to 30 seconds, during which the dog stands with outstretched neck, lips drawn back and a ‘far away’ expression.

The noise is created by air passing between the nasal passages and the soft palate. When you watch these dogs in the videos, it looks like they do it to itch the throat or nose. I believe they deliberately push the soft palate against the back of the throat in order to create the vibration that we hear.

What Causes Reverse Sneezing?

Reverse sneezing is never normal. It occurs due to irritation of a part of the throat called the nasopharynx up behind the nasal passages. Common causes of throat irritation are:

  • Pollens and dust from sniffing dusty areas
  • Infections such as kennel cough
  • Seasonal allergy
  • Reduced airspace in short-faced and small breeds; affected dogs include the Pug, French Bulldog, Chihuahua and smaller Terriers
  • Pneumonyssoides caninum is a nasal mite that is found (rarely) in NSW and Qld

The last video shows a dog with rhinitis. This characteristic noise is nasal stertor, not reverse sneezing. It’s caused by something irritating the nasal passages. Often the causes are the same as above, so it’s not a terrible mistake to make. However, the location of the problem is different, so you might like to look at the causes of true sneezing in dogs too.

For most dogs, an occasional reverse sneeze is acceptable and no cause for alarm. However, if your dog has started reverse sneezing constantly or is getting worse then you need to help. It’s also worth reading our page on the causes of coughing in dogs.

How To Stop Reverse Sneezing

Reverse sneezing is a semi-voluntary behaviour, so anything that distracts or disrupts your dog will often stop it. This might include picking a dog up, rubbing the throat, pinching the nostrils or even a tasty treat. However, just like any other itch, you aren’t fixing the underlying irritation, just suppressing the symptoms.

To stop reverse sneezing properly, you need to recognise and treat the cause.

Treatment of Reverse Sneezing

Reverse sneezing is treated by reducing the irritation to the airways. Always start with a diagnosis from the vet of the likely cause.

  • Mild cases may be best left untreated.
  • Infections are usually treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.
  • Seasonal allergy can respond to antihistamines or may need a vet to give cortisone. However, even if it responds to drugs like Benadryl or Phenergan, you should find out why.
  • Dogs with short faces can get into a vicious circle of inflammation and worsening signs. These brachycephalic’ dogs need a cortisone injection to settle airway swelling and reduce distress and may benefit from more permanent surgical solutions.

What Else Causes Dogs To Cough?

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you of more serious diseases that can be confused with reverse sneezing.

  • Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome is the correct term for all the effects on the airways caused by short facial shape in dogs. Too often I see dog owners not taking this seriously enough. If your dog breathes noisily even at rest, it’s not cute, it’s a cry for help.
  • Collapsing Trachea is a common cause of a goose-honk or hoarse cough of older small breeds. Again, without specific treatment it is very serious.
  • Left-sided Cardiac Disease causes fluid accumulation in the lungs that can result in shortness of breath or coughing.
  • Infection is rare these days other than, of course, kennel cough. When I was a young vet, heartworm disease was the leading cause of coughing in dogs.

Want to know more? Read here about the heartworm epidemic in Adelaide in the 1990’s.

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story! The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.

Andrew

15 Replies to “Reverse Sneezing in Dogs”

  1. My dog just started doing this and it’s been getting worse, he’s also hacking as if something is in his throat

    1. Hi Sora. If he ate something unusual, it’s worth seeing a vet to see if any part of it may be caught in his throat. However, it’s more likely that there’s another explanation.

  2. Hi my 8 week old Siberian Husky makes the “reverse sneezing” sound more than 1 time everyday. It mostly happens when he is taking a nap or sleeping. He is restless during the night and always changes positions. He twitches while he is sleeping as well which is scary to see. Is this normal? Should I take him to his vet?

    1. Hi Leslie. Your puppy will need vaccinations very soon so going to the vet is the best idea – just call them to see how soon that can be done. Reverse sneezing once a day and twitching in the sleep are probably normal for this age if everything else is OK but it’s good to be certain.

    1. Hi Mohit. My only addition to the advice in this article is that anything that creates a sudden change like you have described it’s always worth getting investigated at the vet. Normal reverse sneezing is something that goes on sporadically through life, not suddenly starts happening at 6.

  3. My dog ate something off the floor and started to sound like reverse sneezing a few minutes later but it’s not repetitive, he does the sound every few minutes. He’s eating and drinking and acting fine other than that noise is he okay?

    1. Hi Katherine. He’s probably just got a crumb or ant stuck in the back of his nose or throat If it doesn’t settle in an hour I’d still get him checked to be sure.

  4. My pomchi sounds like he’s coughing but appears more like reverse sneeze for about three days now. Tonight he started sneezing extremely wildly. Some traces of blood and then started breathing very hard like in distress. He looks like he is calming down some now but still breaths hard/open mouth, small sneeze then licking his paws. Could there have been something in his nasal passage causing this? He was eating grass just before all this started.

  5. My 17 year old Jack Russel makes a choking noise followed by a dry reach he is eating and drinking fine should I get medication for him

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